Starting today, Western Australian teenagers aged 15-19 can receive a free meningococcal vaccine at their local GP clinic, following a recent rise in the life-threatening disease.
As a result of 22 reported cases of meningococcal across WA in 2016, the WA Department of Health commenced a state-wide vaccination program earlier this year, which has seen more than 50,000 teenagers vaccinated as of term two.
The Department of Health has since sent the vaccine, which protects against the ACWY strains of the disease, to GP clinics around WA to ensure those who may not have received one will have free and convenient access until the end of 2017.
Liza D’Cruz, from Meningitis Centre Australia, said teenagers were at a particularly high risk as they were the most “socially active demographic” but also urged all adults and those with young children to get the potentially life-saving shot.
“Meningitis or meningococcal can kill within 24 hours,” she said. “You can wake up one day feeling healthy and by the end of the day you could be dead.
“My children aren’t even in the age bracket [to be eligible for a free vaccination] but I spent the money and got them vaccinated because I know what the outcome of the disease is and it’s not a pretty picture.”
Ms D’Cruz said the recent spike in meningococcal cases had been worrying.
“A few years ago you never saw the W strain [of meningococcal],” she said. “Now, over the last two to three years there’s been a huge increase and that’s got a lot to do with us being a more multicultural society and people working overseas, bringing these diseases back in.”
Terry Dunham, the father of an Albany teenager who died from the W strain last month, has also urged young people to get the vaccination, in an interview with PerthNow.
WA Health Minister Roger Cook said although meningococcal was uncommon, it might be deadly if contracted, and the McGowan Government was committed to preventing this.
“I encourage all teenagers to take advantage of this free vaccination program and reduce their risk of contracting or spreading this disease,” he said.
From 2018, the free vaccine will only be available through the school-based program, targeting students incoming to year 10.